The Guardian, July 27, 2020
A New Zealand-based Samoan chief has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for human trafficking and using 13 of his countrymen as slaves over a 25-year period.
Joseph Auga Matamata, 65, also known as Villiamu Samu, was found guilty on 10 counts of trafficking and 13 counts of slavery following a five-week trial at the high court in Napier in March.
During sentencing on Monday, Justice Helen Cull described Matamata’s offending as “abhorrent”, and ordered him to pay NZ$180,000 ($120,000) in reparations to his victims, RNZ reported, with the crown seizing half of Matamata’s assets last month in a bid to recover funds for the reparations.
Matamata’s case is the first time anyone in New Zealand had been charged with both human trafficking and slavery simultaneously.
The offending occurred between 1994 and April last year involving 13 Samoans from three villages on the island of Upolu. The youngest was just 12.
The Crown argued there was a pattern to Matamata’s offending, with him bringing small groups of people to New Zealand over the 25-year period for his “own financial benefit”.
He promised paid horticultural work or schooling in New Zealand and paid for their flights, visas and passports. But upon arrival they worked long hours, often seven days a week, for no pay while “bags of cash” were handed over to Matamata, Crown prosecutor Clayton Walker said.
Matamata’s lawyer argued his chiefly status meant he had a responsibility to look after the whole family and it was typical in Samoan culture for all members of a household to pool their wages to help everyone.
All 13 victims, who gave evidence through translators in court, said they worked without pay and had to do chores around Matamata’s house where they lived behind a tall perimeter fence and a locked gate. They were not allowed to leave, or speak to anyone at work or church, or even their families in Samoa, without his permission.
They were also subjected to regular verbal and physical abuse if they worked too slowly or did not perform their chores to his standards, claims which Matamata denied.
He said the men and women came to New Zealand on holiday and he had no control over those who ran away and became overstayers.
All Matamata’s victims said they were too scared to complain about their treatment, given Matamata’s matai or chiefly status, which commanded absolute obedience.
In New Zealand, slavery carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. The human trafficking charges carried a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison or a NZ$500,000 fine.